Putting off a social interaction, I’m sure we’ve all been there. Time after time there are plans made that you just don’t really want to go to. But the pressure mounts, you’re insisting that you can’t go, yet you end up there anyway. Most of the time you end up wishing you were elsewhere, but My Dinner with Andre focuses on the rare occasions when something so unique, incredible and interesting happens that you wish you could stay that little bit longer. That lingering feeling is well rounded and beautifully crafted throughout this one room drama discussion.
Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory are skilfully directed by Louis Malle, who manages to turn idle chit chat into a conversation of faith and the intricacies of life. There’s much potential to be had in a film like this, and My Dinner with Andre makes me hold out hope that there is still life in this sort of piece. An incredible display of how far a movie can go on story and performance alone, Malle takes a backseat to some incredible writing and chemistry between Shawn and Gregory.
The two push their way through a three-course meal, Shawn having wanted to avoid Gregory for as long as he could. With the two portrayed as old friends, it makes for an easy viewing as the audience becomes a mere observer of the table. We may as well be at a third seat, merely listening in to the discussions Shawn and Gregory are having. They discuss many things, and for a time it feels like Gregory is doing most of the talking. A great game of verbal tennis is underway, and the two disagree, dissect and discuss each other’s worldview.
It’s a great feat of filmmaking, to make something so basic so interesting. Shawn has really delivered some stellar performances, and I’m amazed that I’d not known until now how broad an actor he really can be. He sells comedy well in Toy Story, he performs villainous leads perfectly in The Princess Bride and his sporadic appearances in the work of Woody Allen always puts a smile on my face. He’s certainly an engaging dinner guest, as witnessed by Gregory and the rest of the audience.
Gregory too provides fascinating talking points, with his reminiscence and almost midlife crisis style of talking a fitting countermeasure to the desperate and negative outlook of Shawn. My Dinner with Andre simply wouldn’t work if the two friends had the same attitudes towards the same subjects, and it’s a real treat to see them come to intellectual blows, each battling the other’s view of the world with surprisingly well thought out arguments to share over the dinner table.
A film that focuses truly on the characters at hand, Malle’s work lacks variety but its lacking focus in the direction department is what elevates the story to greater heights. A necessary sacrifice for the preservation of the script, and thanks to the performances of Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, My Dinner with Andre is a superbly engrossing movie.